My wife and I traveled aboard the Celebrity Infinity round-trip to Alaska inland departing from Seattle on July 18, 2008. In summary we had a great time and the cruise was a good value for what we paid. However, this cruise was far from a premium experience.
Embarkation and Debarkation
This was the most pleasant embarkation and debarkation experience we have ever experienced. After arriving we fed our baggage into the luggage scanner, walked to the check-in area, through the metal detectors and onto the ship almost without stopping. The holdup was of all things the photographers at the ship which held up the line. We were onboard by noon and 3 of 4 bags were at our room by 2pm. Unfortunately, our 4th bag did not show up until 6pm. We used the "carry your own" baggage option to disembark from the ship and this was effortless.
I will be blunt, the Infinity is worn out and in need of a lot of minor renovation. The carpeting is worn and in several places it was peeling up. The railing on our stateroom balcony was really worn and generally across the ship I noticed that most if not all the stateroom railings were well worn. They need a good sanding and varnish. Rust was bountiful all over the ship including our balcony. The cushions in the Celebrity Theater were badly stained and in need of replacement. In the last three years I have been on the Diamond Princess, Sapphire Princess, and the Westerdam and the upkeep of this ship was poor compared to those.
Our balcony stateroom was plenty big for two passengers. I read that Infinity's rooms are smaller than other cruise lines, but it was fine for us. Aside from the worn out look, my only other room complaint was the towel situation. The towels were really crappy quality and the bath towels small. Motel 6 gives you better towels than Celebrity. They offer you robes, but these things are so cheap they reminded me of what you might to get at a doctor's office.
Food and Dining
The food aboard this cruise was of poor quality. While the food preparation itself was not too terribly bad, the problem appears to be with the quality of ingredients. You screw up a steak by over cooking it. On this ship the problem was the beef was of such poor quality that no level of preparation could have salvaged it. I had a New York Steak Sandwich that was tougher than a leather belt. I kept trying different beef dishes hoping that it would get better. Even the fillet mignon was not good. The beef must have been salvaged from old dairy cows as I have never had such poor quality meat. One passenger we ate lunch with summed it up as glorified Denny's cuisine dressed up to look like it came from a good restaurant. Most desserts like everything else was of poor quality. Anything with cake was made with sponge cake that is tasteless. My wife noticed the cake tended to be wet. The cookies tasted like they were made with shortening and not butter. Even the ice cream was weird. Ice cream left out for 10 minutes should melt. For some reason this ice cream did not seem to hold its shape well when left out.
We had our dinners in the main Trellis dining room. We requested a table for two as we have had bad experiences being placed with other people we did not click with. In the old days it was the maitre'd that grouped people together. They did a pretty good job. Now they kind of do it randomly. At breakfast and lunch we heard horror stories from people. For example, there was a family of 6 and they were seated at a table of 8. The other 2 people seated there were outsiders. I can imagine the awkwardness of those 2 passengers. Another story was a couple who were seated at a table for 6. The other two unrelated couples were Latin and spent the time talking in Spanish and not including the non-Spanish speaking couple.
We did not eat at the USS United States. However, one passenger who ate there said the food was dreadful and that the dining in the Trellis restaurant although bad, was better than the United States. Their complaint was that the food came out overcooked.
Celebrity offers an optional casual dinner dining up in the seating area for the buffet. We did not eat there, but we met one couple on the last day that discovered it halfway through the cruise and gave up on the Trellis. They said the food was noticeably better. They charge a $2 gratuity charge per person which is a real bargain.
The buffet was average to poor. Once again it fell into the mediocre category. For example the pizza quality was lower than what one might find from the Costco snack bar. I tried the gnocchi from the Italian station and ended up throwing it away as it tasted as if it had been sitting there for hours. The buffet breakfast wasn't bad, but they had a habit of overcooking the omelets that are made to order. They had a good waffle bar too.
Room service was fine and they had a good menu. You can also order meals from the dining room during dining hours. Something very nice is you can order using your television remote. Very convenient and no language issues when you place your order.
If you are a drinker and money is not an object then this is the ship for you. You cannot sit down in a lounge on this ship and not be approached by a bar waiter within a minute. If you say no they will try again 15 minutes later.
Each night there was a show in the main Celebrity Theater along with various musical acts around the ship. There was also Brent Nixon, the Alaskan Naturalist who gave presentations during the day. Entertainment was headed up by Alan King the cruise director. Alan, like all cruise director like to hear themselves talk. I thought he did a good job, but some other passengers seemed to think he talked too much.
On our trip we had three dance shows, two played live by the orchestra. One was a tribute to Broadway tunes which was entertaining, another was a rock and roll show, and the third was "Celebrate the World," a tribute to the music of the world. I hate to be so critical, but I thought the shows offered aboard Holland and Princess are of better quality. These shows seemed rather aged and I think the time has come to put them out to pasture. One thing that I found distracting is they overused video projections. It might have been OK if they used modern HD video, but these projections looked like they were coming from a VHS tape. I thought it cheapened the productions.
On two of the production dance shows they worked in two acrobats who did a little 5 minute show. These two were spectacular. The only thing is their acts had a "bolt on" feel to them like these shows were never intended to have them included. They were spectacular though and my assumption is the performers were probably part of the working crew. I cannot see the cruise line housing two performers who perform 10 minutes a week. I wish they did a whole show of their own.
As for the other shows we saw a comedian named Jeff Nease who was the funniest comedian I have ever heard. This guy was outstanding and really stood out. He even kept the cruise toilet jokes to a minimum. Note for you comedians reading this: You can make a great joke out of telling about how many toilet flushing jokes passengers will hear on a cruise because every performer tells them.
We saw another performer that was just horrible. If you hear someone calling themselves the "Magic Cat" stay away from the theater. He performed what was basically a kids birthday party card show. Card tricks don't work well unless you are up close. The few tricks he did just dragged on. We were too close and on the inside so we could not escape. The next day we asked some other passengers if they liked the show and we weren't alone.
In the main Trellis dining room they have live dinner music playing on formal and informal nights.
The highlight of the entertainment was Brent Nixon. He is an incredible animated naturalist that gave several presentations throughout the cruise. By the end of the cruise his shows in the Celebrity Theater were packed as word of his presentations spread. If you are politically conservative some of his points might offend you. Get over it as his shows are well worth your time.
Excursions and Ports
We only participated in one excursion, the Lumberjack Show in Ketchican. We live in Southern California and we have probably been Blue, Grey, and Humpback whale watching more than a dozen times in the past 10 years. Many of the excursions seemed overpriced for what we are use to back home. In Juneau once off the ship we paid $14 round trip for a narrated bus trip to Mendenhall Glacier. If you arrive into port and do not know what to do look for the booths on the dock. You can bargain with them for the higher priced excursion as they seem to fight over your business.
We visited Sitka, Juneau, Ketchican, and Victoria. One thing about the ports is most of them are overcrowded as they host too many cruise ships at one time. When you arrive at ports do your shopping early to avoid the crowds. By lunch the sidewalks resemble Disneyland during the summer with wall to wall people.
Sitka was nice because there was only one other ship besides us. We walked to Totem Park and watched the natives perform their crafts. On the way there, across from the now closed Alan Jackson College there is a volunteer marine center with touch tanks and a Salmon Hatchery out back. A volunteer gave us an up close tour of the hatchery and how they process the fish. Really amazing. This is free, but I suggest you put a few bucks in the donation jar. They are not aggressive on donations, but realize this organization is hanging on by the fingernails since the college closed.
There is a lot to do in Juneau with lots of side tours. The Mount Roberts Tramway is nice and if you do not buy tickets on the ship you can buy them at the attraction. The tram is at the main ship dock. Finding locally made goods is tough. We found an Alaskan made wooden log mug for my son for $40 and in an out of the way knitting shop we found a handmade satchel for my daughter. Look for the pooping bear key chains to bring back to all your friends. The port gets insanely crowded when four ships and 12,000 people descend on this small town.
Ketchican has a nice walking tour through town. We saw the lumberjack show and then walked the town. The lumberjack show is one of those things that is worth catching once. I think it was a little overpriced for what it was, but heck you are on vacation.
Victoria is nice, but you get there so late that most everything but restaurants is closed. The walk into town takes about 20 minutes and if you don't feel like walking back you can take a bicycle carriage back for $20-$30. Forget doing Buchart Gardens unless you do the ship endorsed excursion. There just isn't enough time to do it on your own.
Of all the cruises I have been on this one had the best service. Even though the food was not great, the service in the Trellis was perfect. Service in the buffet and for that matter everywhere else on the ship was perfect. Our stateroom attendant was pretty good too. On Princess we never saw the maiter'd, on this cruise he came by every night.
I personally like the tipping system on this cruise better than others where it is automatic. The nice thing about Celebrity is the crew has to work for their tip, unlike on Princess where it is automatic and mathematically split between crew.
Even though the food was mediocre, the ship was rundown, and some of the shows were snoozers, we had a great time. We got a great deal on this trip through Sams Club where we took advantage of a special for bookings committed on memorial day. For a balcony room with fuel, taxes, and port fees, we paid only $1500 per person. Where else can two people go away for a week with food, entertainment, and visit neat places for this price. If I had paid $2000 a person then I would be a disgruntled passenger. Generally speaking, we have noticed the cruise company bean counters are shaving away at the cruise experience. Basically it is improve profit by moving toward bigger ships, cheaper food, and less included amenities. Celebrity is no different than the other product lines put out by the two large cruise companies.